NEW DELHI – An Indian court sentenced four men to death Friday in the December rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus, one of the nation’s most closely watched legal decisions in recent history.
The judge made the announcement in a one-paragraph statement, adding that tough punishment was justified in a case that shocked the conscience of the nation. “In these times when crime against women is on the rise, courts cannot turn a blind eye toward such gruesome crime,” Judge Yogesh Khanna said.
The victim, who died of massive internal injuries two weeks after the brutal assault, was not named under Indian law, but Indian media dubbed her “Brave Heart.”
“I welcome the judgment,” said Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, adding that it was too early to comment on any possible appeal or presidential pardon. “Justice is given to Brave Heart. There cannot be any other punishment in this case.”
The four men ages 19 to 35 were among six apprehended in the wake of an attack that hit a deep nerve in India. A fifth reportedly committed suicide in prison, although his family claimed it was murder. And the sixth, a juvenile at the time, was given three years in a rehabilitation facility, the maximum punishment.
Members of the victim’s family told reporters they were relieved at the judge’s decision but want the youngest then-juvenile gang member, the most brutal by some police accounts, to hang as well.
Defense attorneys countered that the decision amounted to a miscarriage of justice. “This is not the victory of truth,” A.P. Singh, a defense lawyer, yelled out when the judge read his decision, according to pool reports. “But it is the defeat of justice.”
The case sparked violent demonstrations that jarred politicians and bureaucrats into action, leading to fast-track laws, amended police procedures and a new law that stiffened penalties for gang rape and other sexual crimes. The law didn’t apply in this case since it passed after the attack.